FEATURED: Karate is more than just a martial art

Ambassador Miyashita celebrates the victory with the Nyamagabe Karate Club members showing proudly their gold medals.

The 4th Karate Ambassador’s Cup, the annual event co-organized by the Embassy of Japan and FERWAKA, marks the close friendship between Japan and Rwanda

The audience cheered enthusiastically when a karate player got a perfect ippon, the highest points in karate, at the final match of the 4th Karate Ambassador’s Cup at Petit Stade in Amahoro Stadium on February 24.

The competition was co-organized by the Embassy of Japan and the Rwanda Karate Federation (FERWAKA) and hundreds of players and fans gathered at the venue.

Karate, which developed into its modern form in Okinawa, the southern island of Japan, is one of the most famous and popular Japanese martial arts all over the world, as well as Judo, an official Olympic sport since the last Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. Rwanda is not an exception, for karate attracts more than 3000 karate players, or “karateka”, as they call themselves in Japanese.

The karate competition consists of “kata” in which players demonstrate combination of various motions in a sophisticated form, often together with other players, and “kumite” in which two players fight against each other.

The karatekas showing their synchronized kata performance.

Being known for its cutting-edge technology, Japan has been cherishing its traditional culture still today. Therefore, Japanese culture reflects the spirits and virtues of the Japanese people, such as modesty, pursuit of perfection, and consideration for others. The Japanese martial art of karate is are one of the best examples. “Playing karate is more than just kicking and punching. Through karate, you can learn disciplines and respect for others, especially for your sensei (master in Japanese) and even your opponents,” said one of the practitioners.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Ambassador Miyashita, the host of this cup, praised the engagement of FERWAKA in promotion of karate in Rwanda for more than 20 years. “I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to FERWAKA for its longstanding cooperation to promote karate in this country. Acknowledging its persistent efforts, the Government of Japan awarded the federation the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation last year,” which is given only to the best individuals and organizations with a great contribution to mutual understanding between Japan and foreign countries.

In light of the key role of FERWAKA in cultural exchange, the Embassy of Japan provided the federation with 400 tatami mats and other karate equipment last September. “I am delighted to see that the equipment is being used for the first time in a competition. I really hope that this new equipment will help both young and mature karatekas to further improve themselves,” said Ambassador Miyashita, asking all the participants to do their best performance at the competition.

A wide range of generations are practicing karate in Rwanda.

Karamaga Barnabé, Vice President of FERWAKA, pointed out that karate players in Rwanda have been achieving the best performance recently. “Last year, a youngster Ndutiye gained Rwanda’s first-ever gold medal at an international tournament at the Africa Karate Championship 2018 in Kigali. It means that we are mastering this sport.”

Karate is no longer a sport at the grassroots’ level. It is now discussed at the highest level between the two nations. Ambassador Miyashita remarked. “During his visit to Japan early January, President Kagame issued a joint statement with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the two leaders welcomed the promotion of karate in Rwanda through the activities of FERWAKA and the support from Japan.” He reaffirmed the Japanese Government’s commitment to further deepen cultural and sports exchange with Rwanda.

With the growing number of karatekas in the world, this martial art is introduced as an additional sport for the first time in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games 2020. Rurangayire Guy Didier, Acting Director of Sports in the Ministry of Sports and Culture, encouraged the karatekas at the championship. “Please practice harder to be qualified for the Olympic Games, and get at least one gold medal there.”

Karate is getting more popular in Rwanda, and the Embassy of Japan is committed to assist karatekas in achieving their supreme goal.